South Asians celebrate Independence Days on LI

South Asian-Americans on Long Island gather at Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre in East Meadow to celebrate their lives in the United States and the upcoming independence days of India and Pakistan. Videojournalist: Rachel Chinapen (July 8, 2012)

A string of traditional dances to classical Indian songs at the Long Island South Asian American Independence Day Celebration was broken up Sunday by a group of teens dancing to a Bollywood-style remix of a recent Top 40 hit.

"This is what the latest trends are," said Vinayak Pandit, a festival volunteer from Valley Stream. "Indian youth are a little different than they used to be."

For the first time, Long Island's South Asian community came together to host a festival -- replete with mango lassis, imported saris and chicken tikka masala -- honoring national holidays in the United States, Pakistan and India that celebrate independence. Different cultures and generations mixed as dancers, comedians and singers from around Long Island took turns on the stage of the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, while families sat on the lawn before them.

"What you're studying in history, that's a different India," Pandit said. "It's a new India now."

Though event organizer Bhavani Srinivassin said she enjoys the new fusion of styles, it's also important for the "new generation to carry on our traditions."

Right before they went on stage, Valley Stream brothers Sahil, 13, and Arvin Batra, 17, who are dancers, agreed that it can be difficult to balance the culture of their Indian roots and that of the United States, where they were born and raised.

"A lot of the shows we do are culture-based," Arvin said. "At an Indian show, we might do more Indian songs, and at American shows we might do more American songs."

Both teens count Michael Jackson and the Jabbawockeez, a dance troupe that won the first season of MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew," as inspirations.

"They come from all different walks of life and culture to come together for dance," Arvin said. "It's very inspiring."

Sitting in the shade of his booth's tent, Naqvi Syed of New Hyde Park, who owns a Queens-based Pakistani catering business, said he enjoyed the day's multicultural nature.

"It's easier to get together," Syed said, "to understand each other's cultures."

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